Young Poets Challenge Winners

Young Poets Challenge

Like cells, each word in a poem is a distinct entity; and just like cells each word crucially contains a world in itself. Each word is bounded by its own discreet meaning, just as each cell is bounded by the cell membrane, and each word has its own definition in a dictionary. Yet just as each cell can connect to other cells, each word can connect to other words, to be lifted and dropped into sentences at will. And it’s when cells connect with other cells, or words connect with other words that fabulous things happen – a human body stands up and walks, a poem forms itself and lifts off the page.

One Cell At A Time worked in partnership with The Poetry Society, the Young Poets’ Network, and The Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts to invite young poets (aged 11 – 25 years) to explore what cells and words have in common and to find new connections between biology and poetry.

Six young poets beat nearly 400 submissions, from 323 young people from 23 countries worldwide, in our Young Poets Challenge. Three winners and three commended poets each received a book token and a mentoring session with an established poet as part of their prize.

To find out more about the prompts in this writing challenge, visit Young Poets Network.

1st prize: ‘Centriole’, Anna Bailey, 19 years

Glass tank in a biology
classroom; I count the centipedes.
See? Hundreds of subtle, creeping things,
life’s sediment, seldom stirred. Quantification is
human nature; three celery-green eyes encircle the
wrist of a fairy tale witch. A trio of centaurs, lamenting
in triolet form. A census. I count centipedes in the biology
classroom; time scuttles past on many brown legs, hiding under
rocks and leaves. Would it take centuries to crack open the
earth, like a walnut or an almond? After all, we perform
so many modern miracles. Spin me a simulation of
gravity. Step into the blank white centre and
bring me emptiness, that stills the
compass needle. Let me hear
its vegetable snap.

First published in 2021.

2nd prize: ‘Epithelium’, Kitty Joyce, 17 years

Liminal: fairy-blue, like the spaces between diagnoses.
The centre of a trembling that hollows out a city, or a
marriage. Organza petticoats made from blackbird feathers
and staples. The curve of a tongue on the back of the word
lullaby. The writhing of mango skins in water as seeds
float frost-like on the surface. Bitter yarn untied between
orange segments. The butterfly layer of a French-kissed
postage stamp. A half-sonnet stretching the full length of a
robin’s tombstone. A band of white light past the horizon.
Music, and the hitch between one note and another.

First published in 2021.

3rd prize: ‘Apoptosis’, Matilda Houston-Brown, 19 years

two sisters pushing their hands two together, two sets
of fingers, thumbs – candy popping round their mouth,
pastel shards of it – each vowel sound posed an opposite
to hiss like capsizing dinghies – approachable gossip
to figure out a kiss or fight, popped spots, acne scars,
posed in the dark as if they’re missing being teased or
being loved, listening to the apoplectic static singing
from a radio or microwave – a whole world seizing in
on itself on the basis of typed-in time, shrivelled spaces,
the necessary multiplicity in falling apart –

First published in 2021.

Commended: ‘The distance between us’, Lauren Mappledoram, 25 years

Mapping my body along its tissues,
I trace the curved lines across my palm,
up veins branching like B roads

and touch my face –
people say I look like you.
Our eyes crinkle the same way when we laugh
and our throats creak like rusty weather vanes.

Stretching my arms, I imagine white fascia
webbed around my muscles,
pulled thin as a bride’s veil tossed in the mud.

I watch my chest fill with breath
and trace the blotch of red on my belly
shaped like a crushed tree
around the empty well of my navel

and I picture myself so small –
when we were separated
only by thin layers of flesh.

Now, all this air between us
holds so many hills and mountains and caves.

First published in 2021.

Commended: ‘Membrane’, Alannah Young, 21 years

Pulled taut, the silken surface of the Seine comes
to kiss my toes, recedes, and comes again;
moves around my feet but swathes to meet
the mellow rain. My skin understands: what must
stay in, stays in. Like a tongue held hostage
in foreign terrain. Words taught falter and sounds wane.
When water falls on a body, it does not soak in. The mind
of the body is still the same, but the words it contained
are swallowed by waves. The body of water that
enveloped my phrase undulates and sends more swells;
perhaps the words went down well. The tongue
embraces the ways of the rain. Syllables cascade
from wavering lips; the embers of words:
“You will find your voice,” remembers the Seine.

First published in 2021.

Commended: ‘Cytoplasm’, Nadia Lines, 19 years

Blister on my finger grows, the chasm
between bone and the outer ring
of skin, the skin filling with
glassy liquid, the inside
of the plaster like an open
egg and I am queasy
at the sight of my weeping
fingernails, the eager yellow
jelly, all the yolks I haven’t
eaten, the whites of someone
else’s eyes in the mirror,
the hours I spent revising,
the magic of a callus, how
proud I felt when people
stroked it. There is an echo
of me in the Sellotape
stuck to my walls where
I would hang up the
minutes like little
murderers, where I
would watch the
post-it notes grow
like sores, the formulas
tremulous as I stared.
I swear that they
would bleed in
the night. I
would bleed
in the night
and someone
would comment
on my scooped
out sockets
and say I was as
pale as anything.
Iron deficiency.
Haunting. A
of ectoplasm,
the poor
the shadow
of my

First published in 2021.

The One Cell At A Time team also congratulates the longlisted poets in this challenge:

Madeleine Aase-Remedios, Sairah Ahsan, Aliyah Begum, Alex Bond, Dale Booton, Dillon Butt, Jack Cooper, Faith Cunningham, Eleanor Dakin, Kaycee Hill, Hannah Hodgson, Jayant Kashyap, Alice Oldacre, Karishma Sangtani, Scarlett-Rose, Ellora Sutton, Alannah Taylor, Yvanna Vien Tica, Jhermayne Ubalde, Amy Wolstenholme, Lauren Young and Vinci Yung.


Thanks go to The Poetry Society, the UK’s leading organisation for poetry. The Poetry Society champions poetry for all ages. Young Poets’ Network is its online platform for young poets worldwide up to the age of 25.